Australia – Tale Ends

My one regret on this trip (besides not having any time to go out bush or dive the reefs) is that, between the rain and the city lights, I never saw the Southern Cross.  The moon however was new – visible at dawn as it waned over the sea in Sydney, and another fingernail as it waxed in the early evenings over the odd skyline of Melbourne.

Yes, the water spins the other way (so, more to the point, do weather systems), but this moon thing was more of a surprise.  At home, you can tell whether the crescent moon is waxing or waning by drawing a line from point to point: if it forms a ‘d’, it’s waning (decreasing); if it forms a ‘p’, it is waxing (progressing).  The opposite is true down here; as we go out tonight for the last meal, the waxing moon over the Melbourne skyline definitely forms a ‘d’.

And everyone wants a northern exposure for their house – the opposite arc of the sun through the northern sky really threw my sense of direction off.

In Melbourne we have been wandering among the Moomba Festival in the evenings – a party for not much that I could see, culminating in my final night with fireworks over the river Yarra.  But the Aussies like a party, whatever the reason.  When Moomba was established, in the late sixties, the authorities went to the Aboriginal leaders and asked, “What would be a good name that means ‘let’s get together and have a good time?”  The aboriginals answered ‘Moomba’, and thus the festival was born.  It was only later that other aboriginal scholars pointed out that ‘moom’ is vernacular for ‘butt’, and ‘ba’ means up, so the rough translation was closer to ‘Up yours, whitey.’

I am told that ‘kimosabe’ – what Tonto called the Lone Ranger all the time in the TV of my youth – actually meant ‘horse’s ass’.  I am tickled when native cultures over-run by white man’s time and the white man’s oppression get to strike back, however secretly.

The bridges over the river are thronged.  Every style represented: hot pants and high heels, tattoos and lip rings, beachwear, eveningwear, jeans and grunge, Gothic, punk, country, and even the Aussie white socks with the khaki shorts – you name it.  No European fashion sense here; anything goes.

The Australians in a crowd are not a pretty people compared to, say, the Icelandics, the Ethiopians, the Italians, or the Vietnamese. As a bunch  Of course there are pretty girls and handsome men, but there is obesity like America’s (which you almost never see in Europe) and many a bulbous nose and large ear and imbalanced walk that needs our work.  But intrepid, funny, cheerful, practical, generous, forthright, athletic, enduring, kind, and welcoming – all these traits more than make up for any coarseness, and these are the memories I will take home.

The tallest mountain in Australia – Kosciuszko – is a mere 2200 meters (7300 ft), a morning’s run for Meissner.  It is a flat country of flat vowels.  It is a country of desert plains, and the plainness is a reflection of their frontier struggle with this unforgiving land.

One such plainswoman with large expressive eyes in one of those broad faces made an extraordinary gift to me during my hip course: an adult male kangaroo pelvis.  Shy and retiring, she made little of the gift and doesn’t want to be named, but I was deeply moved, and treasured it immediately.  A grey kangaroo, an older male, probably ‘boxed’ out of his ‘mob’, dead this 20 years.  I packed the dry but ungainly shape in the middle of my suitcase, supported all around.  When I was sent down the second screening line at American customs in LAX, I thought sure I would lose it, but I put one my most hearty, “Welcome to look, nothing but dirty clothes” and even that special agent waved me through unopened.

So now, standing under the moonlight (the same moon, of course, but restored to its waxing ‘p’) with the memento mori – pelves always look like masks to me –in my hands in the utter silence outside my woodsy home.  I have been in the city, in the constant noise, questions, obligations, just noise, for two weeks now, and now I am back in my element: silence.  I drink in the silence to my plane-irradiated bones, I drink in the ‘track’ this kangaroo left via his pelvis.

This pelvis is one of those objects removed out of its element – this air is cold and damp, the geology glacial, the culture New Englandy, where this desert creature will join my other bones from all over – the skull from the Portobello Road, the cat skull from Europe, the deer bones from New Hampshire.

Bones feed on smoke, the old shaman told me – blow some smoke over your bones from time to time or they’ll steal your spirit.  So I do – burn the sweet grass, and blow smoke up its nostrils.  Seems to keep them happy.

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